MAME DIOUF’S stunning first goal for the Club recorded an historic victory for the Potters against reigning Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Senegalese international produced a moment of magic shortly before the hour mark, running the full length of the pitch, beating two men and drilling a sublime finish through the legs of England number one Joe Hart to shellshock the majority of the near 45,000 supporters in attendance.
The victory, Stoke’s first in these parts in 17 years, was no less than the visitors deserved having frustrated Manuel Pellegrini’s side for the duration of the afternoon.
In fact, Mark Hughes will arguably feel aggrieved that his side weren’t able to add to their tally with league debutant Victor Moses going agonisingly close to netting after Peter Odemwingie looked to pick him out with a superb ball across the 6-yard box.
There were also calls for what appeared to have been a stone wall penalty waved away by referee Lee mason prior to the interval, after the impressive Diouf was clumsily brought down inside the area by Aleksander Kolarov.
As it was, Diouf’s maiden goal was enough to claim the three points for the visitors, with the home side’s best efforts falling to Yaya Toure, twice previously the match-winner in clashes between the teams, but thankfully his first strike hit the bar and his second was superbly saved by Asmir Begovic.
Prior to kick-off Hughes named an attack-minded side, despite opting to leave the likes of Austrian international Marko Arnautovic, former Barcelona ace Bojan and Odemwingie amongst the substitutes.
That meant a first league start for Chelsea loanee Moses, whilst the likes of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, both of whom impressed and scored in the midweek Capital One Cup triumph over Portsmouth, also retained their spots in the eleven.
Buoyed by their victory over fellow title-contenders Liverpool on Monday night, it was no surprise to see the home side eager to gain an early advantage, with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic causing problems during the initial exchanges.
As proved to be the case over the course of the 90 minutes, Stoke’s backline, marshalled by the determined and courageous Shawcross, restricted the Citizens to long range strikes, none of which really threatened Begovic.
Ironically, for all of their early possession, it was Manchester City who could have found themselves behind midway through the first half when Nzonzi, who cut a real imposing figure at the heart of midfield, burst through the pitch and hammered an effort over the bar.
The frustrations were evident amongst the home supporters as their side failed to find a way through the resolute Stoke backline, and their hearts were rightly in their mouths when Diouf was upended inside the penalty box, only for the referee to wave play on, much to the anger of the visiting players and management.
Aguero, who was making his first start of the season, tried his best to dance through the Stoke rear-guard, but even when he was able to find a gap through, his effort wasn’t quite as impressive as his run – dragging his strike well wide of goal.
Moses was certainly enjoying the freedom he was given by Hughes on the left flank – causing Bacary Sagna problems all afternoon. However, on occasions his final ball let him down, particularly when he had appeared to have done all the hard work in beating two City defenders.
Stoke’s doggedness and bravery could have been all in vein moments before the interval when Kolarov squared a clever ball straight into the path of Toure, whose first time effort beat Begovic, but thankfully not the crossbar.
The start of the second period heralded a change for the visitors with Odemwingie replacing Walters. Manchester City boss Pellegrini kept faith with the side he named prior to kick-off, although he did thrust on both Jesus Navas and Edin Dzeko into action in a late bid to claim something from the game.
Stoke’s intent was not only to deny the home side a goal, but to also try and take the game away from the Blues at every opportunity with the power and pace of the side always a threat to the hosts quite remarkable home record.
In the 58th minute, with the home side being awarded a corner, nobody in the stadium would dared to have predict just what would occur during the subsequent 20 seconds or so, as Pieters cleared the ball to Diouf, who brushed past Toure and Vincent Kompany before driving the ball under Hart to send the travelling 1,200 or so Stoke fans into absolute delirium.
Surely the home side would have an answer? They usually do! Not on this occasion however, as the best efforts of Pellegrini’s side were not enough to deny Hughes’ side of undoubtedly their most famous result since winning promotion back in 2008.
Toure fired harmlessly over when well positioned outside the area as the home side became desperate to grab a leveller, before substitute Dzeko headed over from 6-yards after being picked out by the pacy Navas.
At the other end Bardsley and Odemwingie, who was worryingly stretchered off soon after, linked up to lethal effect down the right flank, with the latter delivering a teasing ball across the face of goal – narrowly evading the outstretched leg of Moses, who would have undoubtedly opened his account for the Club had he made contact.
A Crouch header, almost identical to his goal against Pompey earlier in the midweek, dropped inches wide of the post, as the visitors looked to kill the game off late on, but with just ten minutes left on the clock there was, as to be expected, a home onslaught.
When the most serious questions were asked of Shawcross and Wilson in the middle, they had all of the answers as they threw their bodies on the line to help retain the narrow advantage. Bardsley also produced a number of superb interventions inside the penalty area in what was by far his most polished showing of the campaign.
Right at the death, four minutes into stoppage time to be exact, Toure flung himself over the leg of a Stoke defender, but thankfully the referee wasn’t being fooled by the Ivory Coast internationals theatrics, and rightly gave the midfielder a yellow card.
The final whistle thankfully came after what felt like an hour of stoppage time, and in the process started the celebrations inside the away end, that are likely to carry on right the way through the night back in the Potteries.
Quite a stunning way to sign off prior to the two week international break!